Ship of the line

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A ship-of-the-line was a type of naval warship constructed from the 17th through the mid-19th century to take part in the naval tactic known as the line of battle, in which two columns of opposing warships would manoeuvre to bring the greatest weight of broadside guns to bear. Since these engagements were almost invariably won by the heaviest ships carrying the most powerful guns, the natural progression was to build sailing vessels that were the largest and most powerful of their time.

From the end of the 1840s, the introduction of steam power brought less dependence on the wind in battle and led to the construction of screw-driven but wooden-hulled ships-of-the-line; a number of pure sail-driven ships were converted to this propulsion mechanism. However, the introduction of the ironclad frigate in about 1859 led swiftly to the decline of the steam-assisted ships-of-the-line, though the ironclad warship became the ancestor of the 20th-century battleship, whose very designation is itself a contraction of the phrase "line-of-battle ship."




The origin of the ship-of-the-line can be found in the nau (carrack) first built by the Portuguese and similar great ships built by England and other western European states in the 15th and 16th centuries. These vessels were developed by fusing aspects of the cogs of the Atlantic and galleys of the Mediterranean. The cogs, which traded along the Atlantic coasts, the North Sea and the Baltic, had an advantage over galleys in battle because they had raised platforms called "castles" at bow and stern which could be occupied by archers, who fired down on enemy ships or even dropped heavy weights. Over time these castles became higher and larger, and eventually started to be built into the structure of the ship, increasing overall strength. This aspect of the cog was kept by the Portuguese in their newer style carrack designs and proved its worth in the decisive battle of Diu in 1509. Other European naval powers were quick to follow the Portuguese innovations with their own versions of the "man-of-war".

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